The Issue with CAPS
Counseling and Psychological Services, also known as CAPS, can be an incredible resource for students who need affordable mental health care. However, if you are suffering from a serious mental illness or in a crisis state, I recommend getting referrals from CAPS and seeking services elsewhere. CAPS seems to be overwhelmed with the number of students seeking help and are forced to cram as many appointments in as possible throughout the day. For them, they are doing the best they can, trying to operate efficiently, but for the student, it feels like you are placing your trust, health, and medicine management in the hands of people who are too busy to take the time to get to know you.
The info graphic below shows the sheer number of students at UNC-Chapel Hill who in the last survey conducted, showed signs and symptoms of struggling with their mental health or suffering from a mental illness. The bottom of the image illustrates the drastic increase in the number of appointments scheduled through CAPS from the 2013-14 to the 2016-17 academic school year.
I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of 8 so anxiety has been a familiar acquaintance for the majority of my life. However, this past January over holiday break, my anxiety heightened and an all too familiar feeling of panic set in.
Knowing something was not right, I quickly scheduled an appointment with the sports psychologist in the Athletic Department who then recommended I meet with the psychiatrist at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
I was told I would be meeting with the Director of CAPS who is also a psychiatrist. However, when I showed up for my appointment I was placed in the office of a Clinical Pharmacist. I did not argue or ask to meet with the psychiatrist instead because they told me he would still be a part of my medicine management team.
I proceeded to have a thirty minute meeting where we spent about ten minutes summarizing my life, my anxiety, and my family history. The pharmacist threw around some jargon of SSRIs versus SNRIs which I could not comprehend so I just told her I trusted her to make the decision on what we should try.
The director and psychiatrist I had originally intended to meet with then came in as the pharmacist’s supervisor, sat down for approximately thirty seconds, said “I approve this medicine regimen,” and proceeded to leave. It was insinuated that I met with the pharmacist because of what looked like the simplicity of my case, “just another anxious student,” but my issues became so much more than that. The dismissive nature of CAPS would not have been as much of an issue for me had it not been for the nightmare of side effects that came along with the three anxiety medicines I proceeded to try.
2/21/19: Palm Springs, California: 3 Weeks on Zoloft
I was the relief pitcher in our game against Oklahoma State University. I entered the game and could barely keep my feet on the mound I was shaking so badly. My mouth was completely dry, I could barely grip the ball , and my thoughts were racing at the speed of light. I proceeded to sail my best pitch, my change up, over my catcher’s head five times before being pulled from the game. I didn’t know if my anxiety was increasing on its own or if the medicine was causing that spike. All I knew was that my mind was in complete control of my body, making me forget how to pitch a ball that had been muscle memory since the age of 13.
After this game and into the next day, I was so anxious that I was crying, shaking, unfocused, and unable to eat. The following morning I sat down with my coach, who is an absolute god send, and we called CAPS to tell them what was going on. The pharmacist told me the constant shaking/trembling was a side effect and to make an appointment to come in after I had tapered off Zoloft.
2/27/19: Chapel Hill, NC: Tapering off Zoloft
It was the day before our Carolina Classic Tournament, and with our top pitcher out with a broken hand, my anxiety was increasing knowing the team might need me to perform and I might sail the ball to the backstop again. On top of that, I was still continuously shaking even as I decreased the dose of Zoloft. I felt helpless, exhausted, desperate, and frantic. It was the first time that I started to feel hopeless and like this was all too much for me. I went into my coach’s office after practice and told her, “I feel like I am dying inside.” She called CAPS to set up a same-day counseling appointment in hopes of having someone talk with me about how I was feeling.
I rushed over the CAPS after practice desperate for someone to listen, understand how I was feeling, and figure out the next steps for me. However, I was brought into the office and told she only had 25 minutes to talk so I should give her a summary of what was going on. I proceeded to do my best to give a recap of the recent events and my emotions, but felt like I was barely scratching the surface once again. After I finished talking, she told me to close my eyes so she could take me through some meditations which lasted around seven minutes. She set up another appointment for two weeks later, emailed me a mediation, and I was sent on my way.
I was coming to CAPS in crisis mode saying I felt like “I was dying inside” which translated meant, “I am empty and feel like I want to die” which
1. Warrants longer than a 25 minute appointment
2. Should never be met with meditation- meditation is only an effective tool when you are in a relatively regulated state, not in crisis.
3/8/19: Durham, North Carolina: 1 Week on Effexor
I returned a few days later for my follow-up psychiatry appointment with the pharmacist who decided Effexor should be our next drug of choice. I began taking Effexor and immediately felt terribly nauseous and clammy. I as getting dizzy, had no appetite, and multiple times when I did eat, I was throwing up from the spins. The combination of not eating, feeling dizzy, and getting sick resulted in me spending the night on my bathroom floor shaking and too drained/fearful of getting sick to get myself into my bed. I felt like the situation was hopeless and something was wrong with me because of how my body was reacting to this medicine. I felt immense guilt about once again calling CAPS to tell them about the situation. This time, they were not able to get me in for 2 weeks, and while I understood their busy schedule, my mental health and physical health were continuing to spiral, and I didn’t feel like I could make it two more weeks without seeing someone to address the issues. As a result, I decided to take my search for counseling and medicine management outside of the university.
While seeking out help at a private practice seemed like the light at the end of the tunnel, it turned out to be quite the opposite.